Applying to US Universities
- What after GRE?
Once you’re done with your GRE and obtained a satisfactory score, you will start feeling relaxed thinking, “Well, now my job’s done”. It won’t be long enough when you’ll realize that appearing for GRE was just the beginning. The major chunk of the work still remains and frustration slowly creeps in because you keep forgetting one thing or the other. Listed below are the important steps that you need to follow after your GRE :
-Appear for TOEFL : TOEFL isn’t an important criterion for withholding your admission process. Basically TOEFL is a test of your English skills. Its role comes into play at the time of VISA and during your Teaching Assistantship (TA). But it is always better that you are done with all the exams before applying to the universities.
Ideal Time :August-September.
-Deciding your course and university: This is probably the most important and the most hectic time you will go through. You should choose a course purely based on your interest. Usually, students opt for a course based on their undergrad stream, although you can apply to any other different course. The only important part is that you should be able to justify to yourself why you want a course different from your undergrad stream. Work should begin on deciding a course and a university around October, earlier the better.
-Arranging Documents : This is, as usual, tedious and boring. You have to run here and there, from the office on the first floor to the HOD on the 4th floor, each will keep dumping the work on the other. It isn’t so easy to obtain transcripts, LOR’s, attested mark sheets and Bank Statements. As said before, earlier you engage in this work lesser will be the problems.
Below is a brief explanation on how and when you arrange these documents:
As soon as the final year begins (7th semester), start talking to the respective professor’s who will give you a recommendation. Honestly, it isn’t that simple to get a reco (as adorably it is said) unless you have an excellent rapport with the teacher. You should learn how to butter them and make sure they write well about you. It is a long process as you have to make a lot of rough drafts and eventually ready the final document.
NOTE: There is no need to make a hardcopy for the LOR as all the universities accept it online unless the specific university asks for one.
A transcript is an official document which comprises of all your marks in detail (Semester-wise, subject-wise breakups, term work & viva marks) in a single sheet and is issued by your college. You have to make frequent visits to your college office for getting the sample transcript, entering the complete details of all the subjects starting from semester I till the current semester, approving it, getting it stamped and then sealing it.
Number of copies required are around 15.
Frankly speaking, arranging this document isn’t very difficult. Firstly, you need to know how much are you willing to, or in other words, how much can you spend for the next two years in USA (roughly around USD 50,000). Talk to your bank manager and get attested copies of the bank statement which is a proof of your financial solvency.
Number of copies of required are generally 15.
An affidavit is similar to the bank statement, just that it is an official document issued by the Government and it states who will be financing your education. You can make an affidavit by simply going to the court and telling the lawyer the exact details to fill in.
Number of copies of required are generally 15.
Important: Make sure that the bank statement and affidavit amounts are the same.
The heart of your application process. This is the only document which is supposed to be compulsory. Start making your SOP around October as you have to make a lot of rough drafts for a week or 10 days. Get a few opinions from your seniors (to see whether you have written all the data properly) and an English expert (for the language and the grammar).
Suggestion: Although you may have scored well in your GRE, try to keep the language simple and make sure you focus more on the content rather than flaunting your knowledge of GRE words.
NOTE: Hardcopies aren’t required by the universities. They have around 500kb size to upload the softcopy, which is quite enough.
It is a document highlighting your achievements. It usually consists of your academic achievements, GRE and Toefl scores, Co-curricular and extracurricular activities, explanation of your academic projects and personal details.
Is Counselling Necessary?
If you feel a counsellor is going to reduce your work, then you are highly mistaken. You still have to do all the hard work; they just guide you along the way. It is a form of spoon feeding, no doubt about it.
Don’t get carried away by their tempting talks as they give you a lot of hope before joining them and in the end you may find that you didn’t get all that was promised.
Who should NOT join a counsellor?
- If you are too lazy to do your work and may think that a counselor will save your day.
- If you think joining a counselor guarantees admission
- If you think joining a counselor guarantees obtaining visa, scholarships and financial aid
- If you are scared that your application to USA will go through a lot of problems if you work alone.
If you fall in above mentioned categories (which usually you will), then you SHOULD NOT make the counselors rich.
Who should join a counsellor?
- If English writing skills are weak. Basically if you are not good at writing and don’t have a hold over the language.
- If you want assurance about your application procedure (what you are doing is right).
- If you don’t have any people (seniors, relatives, friends) to consult with.
- If you are unaware of the various courses available and do not know which course you want to apply for. Also the counselor will help you in narrowing down the schools which you should apply for your course.
How will I manage work without a counsellor?
Ideally, your seniors are the best counselors. If someone from friends & relatives has gone for an MS, even better. Consultancies will provide you with a standard list of universities which is more or less same for everybody. The list is (most of the times) irrespective of the course, which you could have prepared on your own.
TIP: E-mail your profile to the seniors from your respective department and follow their opinion.
The university online application forms are extremely simple and are more or less the same for all the universities. They are the “apply yourself” forms. You have to read the instructions properly which even a seven-year old can understand!!
- Univ. Selection & Application
How do I select Universities?
Planning to pursue higher studies in USA often gets complicated as one doesn’t know on what basis he/she should select a university. Selection of a university depends on the following factors:
- Friends and Classmates
- On-Campus placements
- Tuition fees and cost of staying
- Location (Small town or a big city)
- Acceptance rate of International students
Of these the most important factor is COURSE/STREAM. Your future is decided by the course you opt for. Ask your seniors who have been there in the previous Fall and tell them about your course.
Result: You will get an ideal list of universities as they themselves must have surveyed a lot.
Alternative: Another fool proof but major time consuming method is to browse through the websites of Universities and learn about them.
To how many universities should I apply?
You can apply to as many universities as you wish, with only one factor restricting you, MONEY! Yes, the cost is pretty heavy on your pocket. On an average one application costs your around $100. Sure you want to know what costs so much. The split is as follows:
- Online application form: $60 approx.
- Reporting your GRE score through ETS: $23 (official scores are compulsory)
- Reporting your TOEFL score through ETS: $17 (official scores are compulsory)
Generally, students apply to 8-10 universities with 4 ambitious, 3 moderate and 2 safes (Huh?!? What’s this??)
- Ambitious: An ambitious university means the acceptance rate is low and the best profile gets in.
- Moderate: A moderate university means the acceptance rate is medium and the chances of making to these universities are above average.
- Safe: By now you would have understood what does safe mean. Yes, it means the acceptance rate is pretty high and the chances of getting through are very high (though it is never 100%)
Caution: Don’t apply to all safe universities so that you get more admits. There’s no point of getting an accept from all the safe ones. Getting at least one admit from an ambitious university should be the target. One admit from an ambitious wins over many admits from safes.
What is the ideal time to apply?
This is by far the most common question you would hear from a student applying for MS. Ideally, the application process should begin by November first week. Generally, engineers apply during this time as after a month they have to go through the university exams which is stressful. In other words, all the documents required for the application should be ready by the start of November.
As soon as you have shortlisted your universities, start filling the online application forms. Generally, the deadlines are around mid December , though some have in January, and some have a rolling admission process. Earlier you apply better it is, as many universities have two deadlines-general deadline and Financial aid deadline which is usually 1st week of December. In short, if you are applying for Fall 2011, then you should start applying in November 2010.
Note : You get a financial aid only if you apply to a respective university before its ‘financial aid deadline’. Secondly, you are eligible for an F-aid if your scores, academic marks and achievements are marvellous.
Is applying early to a university an advantage? Answer is mostly NO. Good universities review the applications after the deadline. That doesn’t mean you should delay your admission process. Few of the good universities start evaluating the applications as and when they receive it. This is known as ‘Rolling Admission’. Example: University of Pennsylvania (UPenn). The advantages of an early application are that if you satisfy the criteria of the University you will get a admit at the earliest irrespective of other applicants.
How to apply?
First and foremost, you need a credit card. You are going to pay a hefty amount (around 50,000/- INR) for applying to the universities (8-10) so you can’t keep knocking on your relatives or friends doors for a credit card.
Go to the particular university’s website and see the tab for prospective students or apply now. See to it that you select the graduate section as there will be a lot of data on the website which will be general for both undergrad and grad students.
The forms are generally quite long extending upto 7-8 pages and you are bound to get bored and restless. But, make sure you are careful while filling the form and use the autosave facility available in all application forms.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Start filling the form even if your SOP isn’t ready (usually it’s not ready). Enter your recommender’s email address as early as possible. The university will send an email to them and they will complete the rest of the procedure.
Note: Recommender’s are EXTREMELY SLOW. You have to keep on reminding them frequently.
Preparation of Packets?
Packet (in application terms) is a set of documents enclosed in an envelope which is to be mailed physically to a university. A packet generally consists of the following:
- Cover letter: It’s a letter which contains list of documents you’re sending inside the packet to the university. It consists of your application ID No. along with address of the college. The letter is directed to the admissions committee or the Graduate Admission office.
- Official transcripts: This is the most important document inside the packet. It’s the official copy of your marks issued by your undergrad college and junior college (if required).
- Resume: Usually the resume is uploaded when you fill the application form but if there is no provision for it, then get a resume print out and send it along.
- Attested mark sheets: You have to get attested photocopies of your mark sheets of all attended semesters. The universities prefer that you get it attested by the Principal or the Registrar of the college.
- Photocopy of passport
- Bank statement*
*Refer 'What after GRE' to know about the last two points
What is a Letter of Recommendation?
Letter of Recommendation (LoR) helps the admission committee know about your technical expertise through your recommender. The content in the recommendation is extremely important. So, choose your recommenders wisely. There are certain areas on which the universities expect you to be rated by your professor or employer. They are as follows:
- Current standing in your undergraduate class
- Comparison with the students who have gone for graduation in the same university
- Communication skills. (Oral and written skills)
- How well he understands the subject
- Teaching Potential
- Emotional Maturity (Still wondering why this is a parameter to judge)
- Recommendation with F-aid or not
- How strongly they recommend you (Very strongly, moderately, etc.)
NOTE: In reference forms, do not tick in the exceptional column for all attributes. Be realistic. No body’s that perfect and the universities don’t expect you to be.
Who can give me an LoR?
Usually, the recommender is from your undergraduate institution. Generally, you should take it from a professor of your department. So, does designation of the recommender matter? Honestly, it does. You can’t take a LoR from a teacher who has just joined the institution and has an experience of a year or two. An LoR from your institution’s dean or principal holds a lot of weightage. A LoR from the company’s manager makes a difference. Generally, a student gets the LoR from the following:
- His/her final year project guide
- Any teacher who has taught you during your undergrad course and you have scored well in that subject
- Any project guide/companies you have worked with
Note: It would be very good if you can get a LoR from a Maths Professor if you are applying for a Financial Engg. course.
Recommendations cannot be given by:
- Any random personality you met in a conference
Note: Make sure that you are on good terms with your recommenders. If not, then try improving them. Learn Buttering. Don’t force your teachers to write good about you (if you succeed, LUCKY you). Always remember, they are doing a favour to you.
How should I write an LoR?
Generally, all universities expect you to give three LoRs. Now the next question will be, what should I write in my LoR? So we enumerate the following points:
- First Para: Write about your recommender’s qualification and the time since he knows you and is serving the institution.
- Second Para: Highlight your academic details under that teacher, how you have performed in his/her subject. Write marks and more importantly write it in percentage (example: he/she stands in the top 5% of the class)
- Third Para: It should focus on your publications, presentations, internships and final year project (so take one LoR from your project guide).
- Fourth Para: Please flaunt as much as you can in this paragraph. This is the extracurricular section, so write about all your achievements in the last three years (Event Head, worked for this and that committee, Sports, etc.)
- Last Para: Keep it small (say 2-3 lines) and it should conclude the above points and tell the university to grant him admission along with F-aid
- Bottom Left of your copy: Your teacher’s name, signature, qualification and his post in the current institution/company.
Warning: Don’t make the LoR so exceptional that you are the best student in India. Make it quite real and cover the above mentioned points.
NOTE: Split the content in the LoRs so that all 3 are different from each other.
What is an SoP?
An SOP is a Statement of Purpose. Basically, purpose means the reason for which something exists. To be precise, it describes you, your goals and intentions which the admission committee will evaluate. An SOP is a document which shows your passion, clarity of thoughts, dedication, inspiration, and most importantly, uniqueness.
How important is the SoP?
The evaluator has never seen you or heard of you. Yes, the SOP serves the purpose of telling the admission committee why they should choose you. It is “the” most important document. They want to know a student in and out and not just by his transcripts and final year project. An SOP carries a lot of weightage. A well written SOP particularly to the top universities can tilt the scales in yourfavour.
How should I write an SoP?
An SoP is basically an essay and a major chunk of it will be boring. However, it is the most important document which means it will take a lot of your time. Start working on it from around the 1st week of October (if you’re applying for Fall). It’s not an essay on a political leader which will get over in a day. You have to make several rough drafts, keep on editing, get it proof-read by your seniors and then you will have your final copy ready.
Following are the points you should write in your SOP:
- Start off with a saying or a quote and justify that you are highly inspired by that quote and the person who wrote it. (in like 2 lines)
- First Para : Describe your childhood interests in an innocent way (don’t drag it for long) and how that interest is still in you. (ex. A computer or a telephone)
- Second Para : Highlight your marks in the entrance exam of engg. or your undergrad percentage (make sure the achievement is big, else don’t). Also, write about your current subjects that inspired you towards the course and express it as one more element towards your interest.
- Third Para : Give an idea of your BE project and explain what you are learning from it rather than boasting about your project. Explain your publications, internships in the same way as your projects.
- Fourth Para : VERY IMPORTANT PARAGRAPH. Why you decided to choose USA (NEVER MENTION MONEY, EVENTHOUGH YOU ARE GOING FOR THAT) as your post graduate country and why you opted for this course/university. Express your liking towards the university. Don’t bore the reader by praising them irrelevantly. Express your liking of the university in terms of Research work, Labs, Faculty, and current Projects.
- Fifth Para : Explain your goals-short term and long term, where you see yourself some years down the line. Express the content in this paragraph extremely well (one of the crucial factors that decide if you get your admit.)
- Conclusion paragraph in 2-3 lines saying that you will serve really well in the respective university.
IMPORTANT NOTE: You have to make as many rough drafts as the number of universities you are applying to. All the content will remain the same except the paragraph where you describe the specific university. So finish the common parts as early as possible and then start searching for particular university as mentioned in point no. 4.
What NOT to write in an SoP?
- Don’t boast about your achievements, especially marks. Put it in a subtle way. Write more on how that particular achievement helped you and spurred you on.
- Language is an important parameter so you should avoid using slangs (Yeah!!, Chuck, etc.). Also avoid using short form for words like you, are, etc. Keep your vocabulary in control though. Don’t refrain yourself from using nice GRE words. Make sure that the usage of the word makes sense.
- We love copy-pasting but, this is not the place. You can take an idea, but it would be appreciative that you make it as unique as possible.
- Your SOP shouldn’t highlight your interest in working in an MNC or earning heavily in Dollarzz. It should hit your goals and targets. It should be inclined towards your interest in the course and the respective university.
- Never mention any company’s name and job prospects.
- Don’t make it too long and boring on a particular topic. Understand that a reader is a man and not a computer.
- Make sure you keep your SOP in a safe locker. Don’t share your SOP or the idea of it with anyone. The people reading your SOPs are experts and will surely be able to identify copied SOPs.